Intro to Original Edition-style D&D Gaming (aka retro-clones or simulacrum games)
Or: How to play with few rules/many options.
(The excellent guidance from this document was taken from “A Quick Primer for Old School Playing” © 2008 Matt Finch, found here: http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374)
Four Zen Moments of Old School Play
First Zen Moment: Rulings, not Rules – The players can describe any action, without needing to look at a character sheet to see if they “can” do it. The referee, in turn, uses common sense to decide what happens or rolls a die if he thinks there’s some random element involved, and then the game moves on.
Second Zen Moment: Player Skill, not Character Abilities – Original D&D and Swords & Wizardry are games of skill in a few areas where modern games just rely on the character sheet. In an old school game, you are always asking questions, telling the referee exactly what your character is looking at, and experimenting with things. Die rolls are much less frequent than in modern games. You don’t have skills and dice rolls for everything you want to do. You have to tell the referee where you’re looking for traps and what buttons you’re pushing. You have to tell the referee whatever tall tale you’re trying to get the city guardsman to believe.
Third Zen Moment: Heroic, not Superhero – Old-style games have a human-sized scale, not a super-powered scale. At first level, adventurers are barely more capable than a regular person. They live by their wits. To make a comic-book analogy, characters don’t become Superman; they become Batman. And they don’t start as Batman – Batman is the pinnacle. Old school gaming is about the triumph of the little guy into an epic hero, not the development of an epic hero into a superhuman being.
Fourth Zen Moment: Forget “Game Balance.” – The old-style campaign is with fantasy world, with all its perils, contradictions, and surprises: it’s not a “game setting” which somehow always produces challenges of just the right difficulty for the party’s level of experience. It’s more like a story with dice: the players describe their actions, the referee describes the results, and the story of the characters, epic or disastrous, grows out of the combined efforts of referee and players. The referee will be just as surprised by the results as the players are.
Just as the players have no right to depend upon a rule in the book, the referee has no right, ever, to tell the player what a character decides to do. That’s the player’s decision (unless there’s a charm spell going).
And the Final, Most Important Zen – Play and have fun!
Tips for Players
1) Think Tactically – View the entire area you’ve mapped out as the battleground; don’t plan on taking on monsters in a single room. They may try to outflank you by running down corridors. Think where the party can fall back to a secure defensive position.
2) Think Stealthy – Scout ahead, and try to avoid wandering monsters which don’t carry much treasure. You’re in the dungeon to find the treasure-rich lairs. Trying to kill every monster you meet will weaken the party before you find the rich monsters.
3) Think Cautiously – Don’t assume you can defeat any monster you encounter. Sometimes you must run.
4) Breadcrumbs! Keep some sort of map, even if it’s just a flow chart. If you get lost, you can end up in real trouble – especially in a dungeon where wandering monster rolls are made frequently.
5) Think Curiously – Ask lots of questions about what you see. Look up. Ask about unusual stonework. Test floors before stepping. Five foot pole!
6) Think Magically – Protect the magic-user. You will need some of those spells.
7) Think In Numbers – Hire some cannon fodder. Don’t let the hirelings start to view you as a weak source of treasure.
8 ) Think About Firepower – Spears can usually reach past your first rank of fighters, so a phalanx of hirelings works well.
9) Ask Everyone – Check in with the grizzled one-armed guy in the tavern before each foray; he may have suddenly remembered more details about the area.
The above is a slightly altered and rearranged version of the One Page Primer as presented to the TARGA group last Saturday. Right below this area on my sheet is a space for contact information. Get a copy of the original, print it out, and get the word out there! You can find it here.